Last December, daughter Elise and I explored the live Nativity and Bethlehem Village at the beautiful gray stone church up the road from our farm, (Weavers Mennonite). Congregants went all out bringing the small Biblical town to life during the time when it was overrun with people coming to register for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus–the reason given in The Gospel of Luke for Mary, great with child, and Joseph, whose family hailed from Bethlehem, having to go there in the first place. Defying Caesar Augustus, or bad King Herod, wasn’t an option, no matter how inconvenient the timing of their trip. Hardly a day passed in Herod’s cruel reign without some unfortunate sentenced to death.
Those of you familiar with this age-old story will recall there was no room for the beleaguered couple in the inn, or anywhere else, when they finally arrived in Bethlehem. Only the stable. A point brought to our attention by the good folk playing the part of the inn keeper and his wife.
We also met various crafts-persons demonstrating their trade, wood carvers, potters, weavers… Vendors sold, though actually gave away, samples of foods native to that region. While we wandered among the stalls in the tree-lined grounds, taking in the sights, scents, and tastes of the improvised Bethlehem, we heard a voice overhead.
A woman garbed in flowing white with a glittering halo and prominent wings stood on a swing hung from a branch up in the towering tree.. Well up. We craned our necks to gaze at her. She held to the ropes on either side of the swing, but seemed at ease.
“Look,” I said, “it’s the angel from on high.”
“So, she is.” Elise was impressed. It’s not every day, in fact, ever, that we’ve seen the angel from on high.
And lo, she spoke, saying: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
She repeated this to every passerby, which must have gotten rather ‘samey’ for her, though cool for us. And I got to thinking, what if, her being an angel and all, she’d had a personal message for each person who passed beneath her swing. Like, ‘Yes, Bobby, ye shall receive that puppy you desire for Christmas,” Or, “Your prayers are answered, Jill, you shall bear the longed for child.” Or, “A Christmas bonus is coming unto you, Peter.”
I suppose I’m turning her into Santa Claus. The Angel from on High had a specific message, one we heard over and over by the time we’d visited Mary and Joseph, the babe in the manger, shepherds, sheep, three Wise Men, the usual gang at a live Nativity. As to the mission of other angels, I’m not sure what they are, and suspect it varies from person to person, but I believe in angels. And in the eternal message of Christmas: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.”
As always, I urge you to be on the watch for angels. They come in many forms and may be anyone. They are all around us.